Jewish Journal


November 12, 2013

Egypt ranks last in Arab world’s women’s rights

Poll finds sexual harassment widespread in Arab Spring countries


Women protest against military council violations and virginity tests on females, outside the State Council court in Cairo, on Dec. 27, 2011. Photo by Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

Women protest against military council violations and virginity tests on females, outside the State Council court in Cairo, on Dec. 27, 2011. Photo by Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

This story originally ran on themedialine.org.

Just about every woman in Egypt has experienced some form of sexual harassment. The country also has high rates of violence and genital mutilation, according to a new study on women in the Arab world by the Thomson-Reuters Foundation. All of that makes Egypt the worst place for women among the 22 member-nations of the Arab League.

“Women who fought during the revolution (against autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak) shoulder-to-shoulder with men, have then been put back in their home and often subjected to violence to shut them up,” Monique Villa, CEO of the Thomson-Reuters Foundation told The Media Line.

The report was based on a survey of more than 330 experts on gender issues in all Arab League countries. It asked detailed questions on violence against women, reproductive rights, and attitudes towards women’s roles in the economy and society.

The experts found a pervasive climate of violence and instability in Egypt, along with rates of over 90 percent for genital mutilation.

Women living in Egypt today say almost everyone has a story about sexual harassment.

“Sexual harassment, a struggling economy, and the ongoing political instability are making life particularly hard for women here,” Kimberly Adams, a freelance journalist based in Egypt told The Media Line. “Even those not active in the political sphere feel the impact of the often violent protests, curfews, and the sharp rise in prices, especially for food and fuel, that especially impact the poor.”

Women also have little say in the Egyptian political system. In 2010, there were 65 women elected and one appointed to the parliament, bringing the total of women in parliament to 13 percent. The following year the percentage of women in parliament shrunk to nine.

“A lot of people blame the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists who came into power,” Safaa Abdoun, an Egyptian journalist told The Media Line. “But actually the liberal parties are equally to blame. In parliamentary elections in 2011, the liberal parties did not have many women candidates, while the Muslim Brotherhood actually had more women candidates.”

Villa points to the global problem of women who are assaulted and afraid to come forward. “You have a problem because women don't report crime. Only 15% of women in the UK who are raped go to the police, so imagine in Egypt how difficult because this brings dishonor to the family. We try to compare situations between countries but there is no data on the scale of violence against women in the world,” Villa said.

Egypt was the only Arab country to rank below Iraq.

“Since the American led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the situation of women has deteriorated to a point which is really alarming,” Villa said.

Next is the country that has become famous for not allowing women to drive, go to the gym, or do almost anything without a male guardian – Saudi Arabia; closely followed by Syria, where a civil war has left some 120,000 people dead, and more than a million have fled the country. Then comes Yemen, where reports of child marriages have recently gained international attention.

“Of the top five worst countries, three of went through the Arab spring,” Villa said. “There was a lot of terror after the revolutions there.”

The good news came from the Comoros, an island nation off the coast of Africa. The experts said that not only do women there have access to birth control, but in the case of divorce, women are often awarded the property.

Also good places for women are Oman, Kuwait, Jordan, Qatar and Tunisia.

Villa said she hopes the fact that women participated in the revolution in Egypt will pave the way for a change in Egyptian attitudes toward women.

“The fact that women have participated in the revolution and have found their voice, especially in the most disadvantaged circles, is very important because it plants seeds for the future,” she said. “But nevertheless today, they are reduced to quasi-silence by the violence around them.”

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